Eugenio Zaninotto, Katie Wax e Claudia Bettiol
Eugenio Zaninotto,  Katie Wax e Claudia Bettiol

Katie, from Portland salmon to the olives of Gerano

I came across the story of “Katie from Oregon” at a Slow Food market in Colleferro where her husband, Eugenio, was selling high quality extra virgin olive oil from a lesser-known variety of olive, ‘Rosciola.’  In their marketing material promoting the construction of their agri-campground, I was struck by the amount written in English, and in this provincial area of Italy it’s not easy to find English texts.

I asked a few questions of this handsome young man whose family is of Veneto origin, born and raised in Acilia (RM) yet decided to come live in the Aniene Valley with his wife and start a family with two young boys, Leonardo and Adriano.

So when I went to meet the mayor of Gerano Danilo Felici for the Town Ambassador project, it seemed natural that everyone immediately mentioned the name of Katherine Wax. And I was very curious to meet her.

It’s a warm Sunday morning in June and I make my way to their home in the middle of an ‘epic’ olive grove (the slope is impressively steep) and she welcomes me with a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies, her son Leo looks longingly at them: “they’re made with true American semi-sweet chocolate chips. I ask friends and family to bring them specifically because they’re less sweet than milk chocolate but sweeter and dark chocolate: I can’t find them in Italy!”

Chocolate Chip Cookies

The color of her eyes blend in with the color of the olive leaves and her gaze is full of energy and vigor. “We met in Trastevere through friends, I had come to Italy to spend a few months teaching English before continuing to travel the world.

Eugenio owned a bar yet also dreamed of traveling the world and so together they left to spend a year WWOOFing in New Zealand.  WWOOF – Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or Worldwide Organization of Organic Farms – is a network of international organizations who facilitate a learning opportunities on organic farms.

They started harvesting macadamia nuts, later cherries, and then came into contact with permaculture in practice.  Returning to Italy they decided to seek out a place to plant their roots in the countryside and begin a permaculture project.

The idea was to find a place without boundaries in which they could seek to obtain self-sufficiency, the only criteria was to remain close enough to an international airport to facilitate easy visits by loved ones from the States.

They looked in Umbria, Tuscany, and then decided to take a look at a piece of land in Canterano which had been purchased by Eugenio’s parents decades ago and they immediately fell in love with the Aniene Valley.  And how could you blame them?  A lush area with charming medieval villages topping the hills.  Emigration to Rome has preserved their beauty, despite being a mere 30 minutes from the capital.  The Prenestini and Ruffi mountains which join the Simbruini area of the Appenines give a peace and a pristine air that restore the meaning of life.

 Gerano, Agricamping in Yurt

Going from Canterano to Gerano was simply a matter of serendipity, they ultimately found this home with nearly 6 hectares of olives and a few buildings which are integral to their dream of opening an agricultural campground complete with Mongolian yurts and a natural swimming pool in which the plants cleanse the water without any use of chemicals or salts.  A couple yurts have already been assembled and are being tested this summer to determine what measures can improve the comfort of guests in the temperatures of this region.

And many friends are already visiting, those who want to see the ‘true’ Italy, the countryside with small villages and life in the open air.

Meanwhile they raise their two boys immersed in nature and ‘alla Roma’ (all are avid AS Roma fans): “we walk to Gerano, it’s two kilometers…one uphill and one downhill.  Leo is 4 years old and has learned to walk the whole way while Adriano, not yet 2 years old, still enjoys the comfort of the stroller, for now.”

Katie and Eugenio embody the spirit of the younger generations who approach nature with a mindset different than those of our grandparents.  I believe Katie is a perfect Town Ambassador to Gerano and will integrate well with other Town Ambassadors of the Aniene Valley who are more focused on contemporary art.  It will be fascinating to see how they merge nature with art and I believe she’ll act as a stimulus to local residents to welcome international visitors.

And when we said our ‘goodbyes’ I asked her what I typically ask Italians who’ve left the peninsula, and her response demonstrated her fondness for the place and people she left behind: “I miss my mom’s salmon.  You simply don’t have Pacific Coast salmon here and my mother cooks it to perfection.

Gerano, bio pool

Written by:
Claudia Bettiol

Engineeer, futurist, joint founder of Energitismo and founder of Discoverplaces. Consultant for the development and promotion of the Touristic Development of Territories specialising in...

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